The Significance of the Resurrection

The gentle snowfall and cold breeze caused the small crowd to shiver as they stood in a semi-circle around the gravesite. These few had gathered to witness the lowering of the casket into the ground, the resting place of yet another body -- one who lived, who worked, and who now sleeps in death. Tears fall, memories are re-lived, and the love of a lifetime is lost.

Is this all there is to human existence? A brief flame in the wind, only to be extinguished by the inevitable dark wind of death? Or is there more?

In the book of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul teaches that there is indeed more to life. The hope he presents is not rooted in mysticism or some ancient religious customs, nor is it dependent upon the wisdom and comfort that humanity can offer -- Paul's argument for life after death is founded upon what has been called the most glorious, most world-changing event in all of human history: the resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead.

The discussion begins in 1 Corinthians 15, just after Paul has finished answering some of the church's questions on everything from lawsuits to marriage. He makes the statement: "Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you have received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain." Apparently, people in the Corinthian church were beginning to question the most fundamental aspect of their faith -- the resurrection of the dead. (15:12) Because of this, Paul deems it necessary to answer this challenge with force and precision .

He begins his argument by telling the believers the story of Jesus' resurrection. He named the various witnesses that were known to have seen Jesus Christ after His resurrection, and even includes his own eyewitness account of the living Jesus. (15:8) These eyewitness accounts would have had a powerful meaning at the time, in that the resurrection had occurred only about 30 years before 1 Corinthians was written. Thus, these eyewitnesses could have been contacted and asked directly whether or not Paul's claims were true.

As time progressed, no one could doubt the tremendous faith, even faith unto death, that these first believers had in the resurrection of Jesus. Michael Green, principal of St. John's College, Nottingham, observes that the resurrection, "was the belief that turned heart-broken followers of a crucified rabbi into the courageous witnesses and martyrs of the early church. This was the one belief that separated the followers of Jesus from the Jews and turned them into the community of the resurrection. You could imprison them, flog them, kill them, but you could not make them deny their conviction that 'on the third day He rose again.'"1

Surely these men, even Paul himself, would not have lived and died for a cause they knew to be false...they were absolutely convinced that Jesus had come out of the grave, and would one day return to judge the world in righteousness. (Acts 17:30)

1 Corinthians 15 continues on in verse 13: "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." For someone to make the claim that the resurrection of the dead is impossible means that Jesus Christ could not have been raised. (15:16) And, as Paul argues, if Christ is not raised, everything about the Christian faith is proven to be worthless. For without the resurrection, there is no victory; no hope for the future. Verse 17 concludes "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." 

Indeed, life is essentially hopeless for those who reject the idea of resurrection. If Jesus, let alone everyone else, is and always will be still in the grave, then there can be no ultimate purpose for life. We are left with verse 32: "If the dead are not raised, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'"

Thankfully, the Bible presents us with a much better hope; a sure confidence that God will one day make good on His promise to raise all humans from the dead -- the righteous to eternal life, and the wicked to God's judgment (John 5:29). 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 explains "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive."

The message of the Bible is really quite simple. Since the day the first man Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden, all humanity (and all creation with them) has been in bondage to death and decay. Rebellion against the Creator brought with it the curse of being separated from the life of God. Now, in God's mercy, He has provided a way for us to be set free from this cycle of sin and separation.

Jesus Christ came as the sacrifice that would pay for our sins in His death, and claim victory once and for all in His resurrection. Since that amazing day, when the power of God was revealed and Christ conquered death, the world has never been the same.

This concept is further explained by the Apostle Paul in verse 47 and following: "The first man [Adam] was of the dust of the earth, the second man [Jesus] from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; as is the man from heaven, so are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." Humanity on its own looks like that first man -- Adam. We don't follow the commandments of God and our lives end in death. Yet here the Bible promises something very exciting -- that we can have the image of Jesus instead of Adam -- that someday we too can have a "resurrection body!"

Death need no longer be a fearful experience for those who trust the Living Savior with their eternity. In John 6, Jesus makes this clear: "And this is the will of Him who sent me [God], that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Today, just as in the days of the Corinthian church, people doubt the resurrection and attempt to disprove the claims of the Bible. Consider for moment the words of researcher Josh McDowell:

A believer in Jesus Christ today can have complete confidence, as did the first Christians, that his faith is based, not on myth or legend, but on the solid historical fact of the risen Christ and the empty tomb. Most important of all, the individual believer can experience the power of the risen Christ in his life today. First of all, he can know that his sins are forgiven. Second, he can be assured of eternal life and his own resurrection from the grave. Third, he can be released from a meaningless and empty life and be transformed into a new creature in Jesus Christ. 2

In concluding his argument for the resurrection of the dead, Paul turns his mind's eye heavenward: "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" (15:54-55) 

The next logical question is this: If Christ has been raised, and the resurrection of the dead is possible, and if it is true that God wants us to have this resurrection life, how do we get in on it?

Paul speaks to this in verse 50: "I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." This transformation cannot be accomplished through human efforts and religious rituals. No list of prayers, rites of baptism, gifts to the poor, or moral lifestyle can possibly change perishable bodies into eternal, resurrection bodies -- that is something that only God can do. And it is something He has promised to do for all those who repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ. In John 5:24, Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."

Paul taught that "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." (15:56) In other words, the reason death has any claim on us is because of our sin (the evil, selfish choices we make), and our sin is revealed as we look into the perfect Law of God. The commandments we find in Scripture stand as reminders of our guilt.

We have fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23) and every act of pride, lust, hate, rebellion, gossip, over-indulgence, jealousy, and selfishness serve as proof of this fact. The Law is like a great moral mirror, and as we gaze into it, we see the dirt and grime of our own selfish and wicked hearts. But how can we be made clean? If it has already been established that no human works or effort can give us life, what is the answer?

1 Corinthians 15 reveals the answer: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (15:57) If we believe in Him, we can participate in His resurrection power. Jesus' sacrifice for us can remove the "sting" of death and set us free to live as God created us to live.

In another place, the Bible explains it this way: "But we see Jesus…now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone...Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Heb. 2:9, 14)

The message of 1 Corinthians 15, and indeed, the message of the whole Bible, is that we can one day shout: "Death has been swallowed up in victory!"

H.A. Ironside, preacher and theological author, had this to say concerning the hope of resurrection:

This was the message which has been blessed and used of God throughout the centuries in the salvation of millions of souls; and this is the message for the preacher today, the only message that will ensure the eternal salvation of all who believe it. 3

Only as we put our faith in the risen Savior can we find true assurance for our souls. Paul ends his explanation and evidence of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 with the following statement: "Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." (15:58)

Surely, if Christ has been raised, we can stand firm in our faith, knowing that God can and will deliver on His promises to us. Our work and labor will be rewarded. Nothing we do for Him and in His name will be in vain. We, like those believers in the Corinthian church, can place our total confidence in God -- God who forgives sin, gives purpose, and promises life to all who call upon Him in humility and faith!

As the Easter hymn exclaims: "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives."  4

"God...has saved us and called us to a holy life -- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!" (Luke 24:2-6)

1. Michael Green, "Editor's Preface" George Eldon Lad, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus, Eerdmans Publishing © 1975
2. Josh McDowell, More than A Carpenter, Tyndale House Publishers © 1977 pg. 98
3. H.A. Ironside, "Implications of the Resurrection" Great Preaching on the Resurrection. Sword of the Lord Publishing © 1986 pg. 152
4. Bill Gaither. "Because He Lives" #213 in The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word Publishing, song copyright 1971

Bible Texts quoted from the NIV.


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